In the early 1980s, everyone knew what it meant when Frankie says relax.
The main members of Frankie Goes to Hollywood had started as musicians in the late ’70s punk scene in Liverpool and Leeds – and in October 1982, after doing several gigs, the group recorded a John Peel Session for BBC Radio 1.
The lineup of the band changed again, but was now Brian Nash, Paul Rutherford, Peter Gill, Mark O’Toole, Jacob Moogberg and Holly Johnson as the lead vocalist. The band’s name was inspired by an article in The New Yorker Magazine about Frank Sinatra’s career.
Turned down by Arista Records and Phonogram, FGTH continued performances and then lucked out with an invitation to do a live recording of their song Relax by Channel Four’s The Tube, in order to create a music video. With fan response on high, BBC 1 replayed the session and with the combined success, ZTT Records signed the group to a contract in May 1983.
In October 1983, Relax was officially released as the first single from Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and got steady airplay, with a debut in January 1984 on BBC’s Top of the Pops, the song was pushed from #35 to #6. The following week, BBC DJ Mike Read was playing the single and noticed the cover of the album, deeming it overtly sexual and obscene. He removed the song during airplay and publicly declared the single obscene. Two days later, the BBC banned the single.
The single shot to the top of the UK charts, without the support of any BBC stations, radio or television. The original video done by Bernard Rose was banned by the BBC and MTV. Director Brian de Palma did another version of the video, to coincide with the release of his film, Body Double, which became the main video seen of the song as it hit the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. The ban on Frankie Goes to Hollywood was lifted so the band could perform on the Christmas edition of Top of the Pops in December 1984.
During the ban and success of Relax, FGTH released its second single, Two Tribes, with a video that highlighted the cold war tension between the United States and USSR. The band was the first to have two singles in the top two spots of the UK charts since the 1960s. At the same time, the band launched a marketing campaign of t-shirts, with slogans that said Frankie say relax, don’t do it! and Frankie say war, hide yourself!
At the end of 1984, Frankies Goes to Hollywood released its third single, The Power of Love, a ballad, which also became a successful single, but didn’t hit number one. In-fighting in the band was causing problems, and in 1986, when it came time to get back on the road and release new singles, the band’s members were routinely fighting and had loss the support of the music press and soon their fans.
By 1987, the band had broken up and the members pursued solo careers. In its heyday, it was all the rage for the Brit-music lovers on both sides of the Atlantic – and the t-shirts were seen everywhere, initially in stark black and white and then in a parade of neon colours. I had a Frankie say Relax t-shirt, but wasn’t allowed to wear it to school as my Mum though it was inappropriate.
FGTH members didn’t make much of a splash post band breakup, but they’re forever remembered as having that moment of the mid 80s when saying Frankie out loud – and everyone knew what it meant.